Atandwa Kani! I knew he was in the film but I certainly had not expected to see him in one of the very first scenes. When he stood in his Black Panther suit with the Dora Milaje on either side and began speaking isiXhosa, that’s when the excitement really hit me. I knew from the movie’s marketing that there would be recognizable elements from our African cultures, and it was finally happening!
Nakia’s rescue mission of the truckload of women and girls was poignant because it was a hint at the Boko Haram kidnapping in Nigeria and an alternative ending for the #BringBackOurGirls campaign: One in which our leaders showed more care and consideration. I also love that we are introduced to Nakia as a badass, out there in the world fulfilling her own destiny as her own woman despite having the King of one of the most powerful nations in the world doting after her.
Okoye and the Dora Milaje were a highlight! I immediately knew that they are a reference to the Dahomey Amazons of ancient Benin. This female-only military regimen guarded the palace and the king, and was known to be the fiercest army in the land. I remember reading about them in my feminist politics university lectures, and the biggest lesson that Dr. Antje Schumman impressed upon us was that feminism had its own roots on the African continent so we did not need to constantly look to Europe for our understanding of gender justice. The Dora Milaje also wore Iindzila, the brass neck rings from my ethnic group, amaNdebele. I was only slightly salty that these were being worn by unmarried women when they are culturally supposed to be worn only by married women (I don’t think the Dora would marry). But, this is fantasy, and the Dora absolutely slayed and bestowed Iindzila with the necessary dignity. I love how fierce and brave the Dora are. That part when Okoye commands “Vala, necklace!” when they’ve got their spears around Killmonger and he is on his knees? Nothing but chills!
I grew up watching Connie Chiume on a daily soap called Isidingo: The Need as Ma Agnes, the devoted wife of a miner whose life revolved around her family. I had gotten used to seeing her in that role so I had another beam of pride and recognition when I saw her in her Himba costume at the Warrior Falls as the Mining Tribe elder. It was so cool when Killmonger walked into the Tribal Council meeting and exclaimed “bethuna!” because that’s an expression that I am used to hearing from older women. As with all of the isiXhosa speech, it was amazing hearing that in a Hollywood film.
When Michael B. Jordan’s fine, fine self appeared on my screen with that hair, those gold teeth and that snarl in his voice, I just couldn’t cope. I just was not right from that point on. Why is he so beautiful? Why is he so sexy? Why did he have me feeling like #MrsKillmonger is a sensible thing to want despite the complexities of the character? He was a lot to take in and he is perfect.
Ulysess Klaue/Klaw was another familiar character. In fact, of all the accent work done in the film, his was the most convincing. While I understand that there was leeway for the actors to present their own versions of their particular African accents, Andy Serkis thoroughly outdid himself. He sounded like a man from Pretoria, where I spent my childhood in the wake of a South Africa that had just seen the release of Nelson Mandela from jail and had just banished Apartheid by holding the first-ever democratic elections. National Party strongholds like Pretoria were scary to live in because the racism never left. So when someone had tweeted that Klaw even had the “racist laugh” (that wheezy laugh combined with the Afrikaans accent), it was accurate!
Babes Wodumo’s “Wololo” blasting from the speakers as we’re taken deep into Shuri’s lab had us South Africans dancing in our seats. That song was the anthem for summer 2016, including school holidays, the Day of Reconciliation, Christmas Day, and New Years Eve. It’s awesome that our get-down-and-party jam was the music of choice for Wakanda’s smartest genius.
The Casino scene had many gems. Director Ryan Coogler said that he arranged the trio according to the Pan-African flag: Nakia (green), T’Challa (black), and Okoye (red). I love that Okoye didn’t like that she had to wear a wig and that she used it as a weapon! I love her fight scenes, how dexterous she was with her spear, and that her background music was that “choop choop choop!” chant that Coogler said was combat music, chosen specifically for her.
I was really touched by the scene where Killmonger drank the heart-shaped herb and was transported to his father’s apartment back in Oakland. In contrast, T’Challa would be transported to the ancestral lands where his ancestors would always appear first as panthers. It can be read, most obviously, as a symbol of how African American people have been separated from their particular geographical heritage on the African continent through enslavement. To me, it also symbolizes the displacement that has been endured by black people as a result of the colonization of South Africa and the Native Land Act of 1913 that systematically disposed African people of their ancestral land and pushed them onto the smallest, most arid parts of the country.
I read that in the original comics, M’Baku was characterised as the “Man-Ape”. How wonderful of Ryan Coogler to revise that history by making M’baku humorous, generous, and a hero who is, so importantly, a vegetarian–going against the stereotype.
I was ready to cry in that last fight scene when the Border Tribe held up their seanamarena blankets into a protective shield formation. I grew up with these blankets all around me, sleeping in them and seeing them worn as fine wedding attire. I got so emotional seeing them in this light, as instruments of mysticism and protection after a beautiful film paying tribute to Africa. I thought of Wakanda as a glimpse of possibility; of what Africa could have been if we had been left alone and not made to suffer through slavery and colonialism and Apartheid and civil wars and unstable governments and CIA-aided assassinations of our brightest leaders. What could we have been if we had been left in peace? If we could have decided our own fates? It hurts that we will never know. The movie was incredible! Each time I see that it has broken yet another record, I feel a surge of pride and love, not only because people from all over the globe got dressed in their African best to see it, but also because it has achieved what it has with a majority black cast. The genre of superhero films had not resonated with me before and Black Panther has ignited an interest in the world of Wakanda and T’Challa’s adventures throughout the Marvel Comic Universe. I have seen the film twice and already count it among my all-time favorites! It has been deeply meaningful for people of the African diaspora to see ourselves reflected in such a fantastic and boundless way through this film’s beautiful, afrofuturistic portrayal of our cultural elements. ♦